Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 18 - Till Death Do Us Apart

Mama was back in Chennai the same evening and they started immediately for Bangalore. Lucy and her husband Eapen also accompanied them. Papa’s and mama’s siblings were coming directly to Bangalore.

Shikha felt numb. After the initial hysterical reaction, she was quiet – deadly quiet. She did not utter a single word, nor did she doze off during the journey. An eerie silence hung heavily in the Inova car which sped as though with desperation to escape from the oppressive sound of silence.

They reached the Kottayil house in the small hours of the morning. As she alighted from the car, Shikha noticed that lights were switched on in all the rooms in the massive house. Many cars were parked outside the gate and inside the compound. People moved in and out of the house in silence. “The sound of death”, thought Shikha. From somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, this expression seemed to edge its way into Shikha’s vacant mind.

With reluctant steps and a sinking feeling, Shikha walked slowly in the direction of the main door that stood wide open. When she reached the foot of the steps leading to the door, she stopped. Suddenly, her heart went haywire and pounded mercilessly against her ribs. Her legs felt like lead and panic gripped her.

“Let’s go back, mama!” pleaded Shikha with fear in her eyes and voice. Rani gripped her gently but firmly by the arm and helped her into the house.

Seeing Shikha, mummy burst out crying. Daddy threw his head back against the sofa and lay there immobile looking at the ceiling. Shikha walked slowly to the sofa and sat down, a glazed look in her eyes. Nothing seemed to make sense to her. She looked around the room at the rather large crowd there. She didn’t know who these people were.

And then she fainted.

When she woke up it was almost noon. She felt groggy from the sedative that was administered to her by Philip’s cousin who was a doctor. The happenings of the previous day rushed to her mind and she sat up. She felt a restraining hand. It was Ittichen uncle’s wife Sarammaunty.

“I want to go to the bathroom ”, said Shikha.

"Don't bolt the door', said Sarammaunty as Shikha entered the bathroom.

Like one in a trance, Shikha took a shower because she didn’t know what else to do and came back into the room.

“You better remain here”, Sarammaunty said. “The house is full of relatives. Also, the media is prowling around.”

Shikha shrank at the thought of meeting people, but the idea of meeting the media was terrifying.

“Less than a year since marriage and I’m already a widow”, Shikha said and burst out crying. The reality was only beginning to sink in. She buried her face in the pillow and sobbed her heart out. “Why is this happening to me, aunty?’ she asked. Sarammaunty did not know what to say, and kept stroking her hair. Shikha soon drifted off to sleep. When she woke up, she didn’t know what time of the day it was. What does it matter, she thought. She remained in bed. Who would have killed him, she wondered. It must have been painful, all those stabs. Poor Philip, she thought, suddenly conscious of a heavy weight on her chest. She felt her nose get clogged and breathing became difficult.

“Poor Philip, how terrified he must have been”, burst out Shika in a broken voice, and buried her face in the pillow, her body racked by uncontrolled sobs.

“Shikha please”, said Rani, shaking her by the shoulder. Hearing her mother’s voice, Shikha sat up and turned her tear-streaked face towards Rani. “Poor Philip, oh God, poor chap”, she sobbed broken-heartedly. “It must have hurt like hell, no mama, no mama?”

“Shikha please”, pleaded Rani holding her close. “Don’t cry child, please - -“

“Let her”, cut in Sarammaunty gently.” Let her be. Let her cry her fill. You stay here with her. I’ll get her something to eat”. Sarammaunty returned with coffee and sandwich. Shikha meekly accepted the cup from Sarammaunty and took a few sips. Rani held the sandwich to her mouth. Shikha took a bite and then pushed it away.

“You better eat that Shikha’, pleaded Sarammaunty.

“Later”, said Shikha listlessly. Her tears were spent and she felt drained. She lay down again and soon drifted off into a drugged slumber.

Philip’s body was released after postmortem just before noon. It was brought home in a mobile mortuary. What followed was a nightmare for Shikha. Dressed in a light coloured salwar suit, she sat beside his body. Looking at him lying inert was a traumatic and agonising experience. He looked peaceful, and even had a small smile on his face. Her husband of eleven months, who was a total mystery to her. With a sense of guilt, she regretted that she’d never made an effort to reach out to him or win his confidence. Could she have done anything to save him? Is that why Daddy asked her not to take up a job? Maybe they thought a marriage would set him right. But why didn’t they tell her that? Why didn’t they take her into confidence? She looked at them, sitting beside their only son, too shattered even to shed tears.

After the funeral, Shikha remained in Kottayil house till the seventh day function. Rani also stayed back with her. Shikha deliberately kept away from discussions of the police investigations and the theories flying about. She refused to watch the Malayalam and Tamil channels. After the seventh day function, they left for Chennai. Mummy hugged her before she left, and looked into her eyes and said quietly, for her ears alone, “I’m sorry, child. Forgive us”.

Shikha was taken aback. It then dawned on her that both daddy and mummy were aware that Philip had a problem with drugs and gambling. For some strange reason, she did not feel angry with them.

“What was mummy telling you when you said goodbye to her?” asked Rani. “You had a funny look on your face.” asked Rani.

“She asked me to take care”, replied Shikha in a flat voice. Rani looked at her face searchingly, and then fell silent.

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